Just a Thought
In most countries, the Solemnity of the Epiphany is celebrated on the Second Sunday after Christmas. But when the Feast is set for January 6th, there is a formulary that is an extension of the Christmas Mass during the Day. It is the same for years A, B, and C. The liturgy opens with a beautiful antiphon, that in Latin, was once one of the great prayers of the repertoire: ‘When peaceful silence lay all over, and night had run half its course, your all powerful Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne.’
We can see in it an invitation to prolong our meditation on the mystery of Christ, as Mary did. To speak of the night that ‘had run half her swift course’ cannot be reduced to merely saying that Jesus was born at mid-night, the hour when the deepest silence reigns! Rather, the antiphon alludes directly to darkness other than those of the nocturnal hours, which we experience daily, namely, those of a world where the light of God does not shine. This night is joined with that formidable silence that does give rise to the Creative and Redemptive Word of God, and with the silence of creation and of a humanity that holds its breath in expectation of the Word that will restore everyone to courage and life. Silence, thus, has very many varied meanings, but throughout all of them runs a great hope. It is the silence of adoration at the appearance of God.
This is what happened at Christmas. The silence was broken by a word of God transmitted to a prophet: The Word himself came down from heaven, the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us. Dialogue has been finally renewed through the initiative of God. He re-opens our lips, and we find ourselves able to address him with confidence of children. ‘Abba!’ We discover the words ‘peace’ and ‘brothers and sisters’ in our vocabularies. We can speak to one another of the marvels of God, and announce to all the Good News of Salvation.
Our first reading today has the same atmosphere of peaceful and silent meditation as the opening antiphon. It is a short excerpt from the Book of Sirach that meditates on Wisdom, which the author personifies. The Wisdom, which is a common theme of those Books of the Bible that are called ‘Wisdom Literature,’ has nothing in common with the humanistic style of living that bases itself on personal reflections or experience. It is, rather, the personified manifestation of God, of his Word. Re-read in the light of later revelation, the many Wisdom texts allow us to interpret Wisdom as Christ, the Word of God. This interpretation, which expands the meaning of these pages, is solidly rooted in the New Testament and has been a traditional part of the Church since the patristic period. In fact, one could read the text chosen for this Sunday replacing ‘Wisdom’ with ‘Word.’ In any case, this is the proper understanding in the context of a Christmas season liturgy.
Wisdom, says the text, has been associated from the beginning with God’s work, in which it reveals Christ, who, we read in the New Testament ‘is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creatures. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created… He is before all else that is, in him everything continues in being.’ (Col 1:15-17) And ‘this Son is the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being.’ (Heb 1:3) At the end of the parable of the capricious children, Jesus, speaking of Himself, said that God’s Wisdom is vindicated by all who accept it. From His infancy He demonstrated a Wisdom that astonished and often surprised those who heard Him. He extended invitations and calls that were expressed like those of the sages and of Wisdom: ‘Come to me…..’ ‘No-one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no-one who believes in me, shall ever thirst:’ (Jn 6:35) ‘If anyone thirsts, let-him come to me; let him drink who believes in me. Scripture has it: ‘From within him rivers of living water shall flow.’ (Jn 7:37-38) Jesus has been made ‘Our Wisdom and also our justice, our sanctification, and our redemption:’(1 Cor 1:30) He has been sent to dwell among us: ‘The Word was made flesh and lived among us.’ — O praise the Lord, Jerusalem! Zion, praise your God! He has strengthened the bars of your gates, he has blessed the children within you,..’ So says today’s Psalm.
The Letter to the Ephesians begins with an extraordinary thanksgiving, the quality and liturgical style of which is echoed by the best of the prefaces today. We must read this text aloud during the Eucharist. Whether or not it came from the pen of Paul the Apostle, it transmits to us an echo of the apostolic liturgies:Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ…… May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit.’ (Eph 1:3-6, 15-18) This second reading is well worth a second or even third reading.
Immediately following is the prayer of the apostle for the Christians and the community, it is first and foremost a thanksgiving for the gifts received by the Ephesians and the way in which they responded to them, living in faith and charity. He asks that: ‘The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory’, grant them ‘A Spirit of Wisdom and insight to know him clearly;’ that he may open their hearts ‘to know the great hope to which he has called them, the wealth of his glorious heritage to be distributed among the members of the Church.’ Each of these formulas holds our attention. They witness, in fact, to an extraordinary theological orientation of the prayer. Paul always has the mystery of salvation before his eyes, embracing it fully; he sees everything in its light — his ministry and each of the ecclesial communities, with its strength and weaknesses, its struggles and victories. At the centre is Christ, the gift that God gives us, and the call to participate in his glory. And always, in one way or another, the reprise of the trilogy of faith, hope, and charity. The prayer of the Apostle is a model, and is expressed spontaneously in the framework of a letter written to a Christian community. May it lead us to pray like him and give thanks ‘always and for everything.’
For the second time in several days the liturgy proclaims that beautiful — revealing — theological — Prologue to the Gospel of John. So full of theology, it is a reading that one could read every day and reap revelation after revelation. In the context of this Sunday’s liturgy, we are suddenly confronted by the image of the Word of God (‘The Logos’) as a light come to enlighten us all. This is what the first reading suggests. There is no longer a forced personification here: then Word of God made flesh is in his Person the `Light which was always near God and which now dwells among us, having pitched his tent here. Henceforth, knowledge of God is not the object of a more or less uncertain quest, but rather illumination i.e. grace given us by the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father. No longer is it only the prerogative of wise men; on the contrary ‘I offer you praise, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest of children. Yes, Father, you have graciously willed it so.’ (Lk 10:21-22) Here in this Prologue of John’s Gospel, Christ, the Son of `God — the Word made flesh — the Light of the World is revealed in no uncertain terms, and it is right and fitting that we hear this wonderful revelation during Christmastide.
‘The face of the kingdom is today uncovered: a child teaches us of the eternal infancy of God, and God, at our door, waits to be welcomed like a child. From whence comes, in Mary’s yes, this light of tenderness? What is the source of this dazzling sight? The Virgin contemplates the eternal light sleeping in her arms. On the first day the universe sprang from the Word; and you, Christmas Day, you see the Word rise out of the universe, proclaim the final day when the universe will be consumed in the Word.’ (Commission Francophone Cistercienne).
‘The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the `father, full of grace and